Archive for the ‘Have A Question?’ Category

posted by Edward Nichols, MSW, LCSW-R on Feb 22

A caller from Kentucky asks, “Can I sue my child’s therapist for the incompetent work she performed on my child causing me great harm?” She explained that the case involved “recovered memories” of child sexual abuse.

The answer is, “Perhaps”. This is an emerging area of the law, particularly in the case of therapists participating in treatment involving so-called “recovered memories”.  A landmark case in New Hampshire, Hungerford v. Jones, 722 A.2d 478 (N.H. 1998), explicates the issues.

In Hungerford the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that a mental health professional owed a duty of care to the father of the therapist’s adult client.  In his lawsuit against the therapist, the non-client father alleged that the therapist (a) lacked the training and experience needed to work with recovered memories of abuse, (b) incorrectly represented herself as qualified to treat such issues, (c) failed to inform the client of the controversy regarding repressed memories and the uncertainty of some of the therapeutic techniques employed to uncover such memories, (e) encouraged the client to cut off contact with the father, and (f) communicated with the police to validate the daughter’s accusations against her father.

In concluding that the therapist owed a duty of care to the non-client father, the court emphasized the harm caused by false accusations of child sexual abuse:

It is indisputable that “being labeled a child abuser [is] one of the most loathsome labels in society” and most often results in grave physical, emotional, professional, and personal ramifications  This is particularly so where a parent has been identified as the perpetrator.  Even when such an accusation is proven to be false, it is unlikely that social stigma, damage to personal relationships, and emotional turmoil can be avoided.  In fact, the harm caused by misdiagnosis often extends beyond the accused parent and devastates the entire family. (Hungerford, p.480)

The court ruled that the likelihood of harm to the accused increases when the accused is the client’s parent, when the therapist lacks proper qualifications, when the therapist uses techniques that are not generlly accepted as reliable, and when the accusations are made public:

The likelihood of harm to an accused parent is exponentially compounded when treating therapists take public action based on false accusations of sexual abuse or encourage their patients to do so.  Public action encompasses any effort to make the allegations common knowledge in the community.  In this situation, the foreseeability of the harm is so great that pubic policy weighs in favor of imposing on the therapists a duty of care to the accused parent throughout the therapeutic process. (Hungerford, p.481)

Other courts have agreed and disagreed with the Hungerford court thus making lawsuits against mental health professionals by non-clients an open question.  I have consulted on cases involving false recovered memories with successful results relying on Hungerford and similar cases.

[What's your question?  Nichols Consulting has established a 24/7 hotline at 800-400-8886.  Callers to this hotline will have their calls returned by Mr. Nichols as soon as possible, usually within the same day.  You may also follow Mr. Nichols on Twitter @falseabuse.]

posted by Edward Nichols, MSW, LCSW-R on Feb 21

A caller from Illinois asked, “What are the demographics of those who sexually abuse children?  Is it mostly parents?”  Actually not. Parents and stepparents constitute between 6% and 16% of all cases depending upon which study you read.  The gathering of statistics in this area is, to say the least, problematic.  The assessment of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children [APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, 2nd Ed., pp.56-57] follows:

The reported characteristics of sexual abuse vary depending on the data source.  For example, child abuse reporting systems and clinical programs tend to overrepresent intrafamilial cases.  Based on general population surveys, abuse by parents (parents and stepparents) constitutes between 6% and 16% of all cases, and abuse by any relative comprises more than one third of cases.  In these nonclinical samples, teenagers represent up to 40% of offenders, and strangers account for a relatively small proportion (5%-15%), with the remainder of cases involving individuals known to the child or family.  In clinical samples, parent figures comprise between a quarter and a third of offenders and all relatives about one half. In both clinical and nonclinical samples, the vast majority of offenders are male, although boys are more likely than girls to be abused by women (20% vs. 5%), and 40% of the reported cases of day care sexual abuse involve female offenders.

[What's your question?  Nichols Consulting has established a 24/7 hotline at 800-400-8886.  Callers to this hotline will have their calls returned by Mr. Nichols as soon as possible, usually within the same day.  You may also follow Mr. Nichols on Twitter @falseabuse.]

posted by Edward Nichols, MSW, LCSW-R on Feb 20

Yesterday I spoke to a California woman who had concerns regarding her father-in-law’s defense.  She explained that he was charged with the abuse of two grandchildren and he completely maintains his innocence. He is currently in jail since bail is set at a million dollars.

She explained that he is scheduled to go to trial in two weeks and the family has no idea what his attorneys are doing.  There is apparently a head attorney that met with the family once, and several “young” attorneys that visit with family members.

The caller explained that she has no idea what the attorneys plan to do other that to show that “the children are lying”.  She was told that they will not know if any experts will be used and will make that decision “a week before trial”.  She also said that this is the second attorney the family has hired.  Her question: “Do you think we’re ready for trial,”

No. The most important part of being an effective defense attorney, or an effective client, is communication.  If you don’t have adequate communication you don’t have either.  California in general, and southern California in particular, are known for “defense mills” that collect fees and hang their clients out to dry.

A client should know the attorney’s “theory of the case”.  It should be clear, convincing, and supported by a plan to introduce it with specific witnesses being asked specific questions.  If the theory is not “clear” it needs to be worked on.  If it is not “convincing” perhaps it’s the wrong theory.  If the attorney has not identified, met, and worked with the witnesses that will advance the “theory” two weeks before a trial — you have a big problem.

This caller rightfully expressed her concerns regarding changing attorneys again.  This becomes an expensive proposition.  But what is the alternative?  Go to trial unprepared and hope the defendant gets lucky?  Trust me: People accused of child sexual abuse don’t get “lucky” in criminal court.  Hope the attorney pulls a rabbit out of his hat during the trial?  The best trick a defense attorney can perform is being prepared for the case.

Through the years I’ve hear from many people in this caller’s position.  Clearly, if the defendant is convicted the family will spend years trying to appeal the case.  This is not only inexpensive, but in fact it is much more expensive than getting the right attorney in the first place — both in human and financial terms.

We worked out a specific plan for this caller, and hopefully, with the support of his family, this defendant will not be facing an appeal process.

[What's your question?  Nichols Consulting has established a 24/7 hotline at 800-400-8886.  Callers to this hotline will have their calls returned by Mr. Nichols as soon as possible, usually within the same day.  You may also follow Mr. Nichols on Twitter@falseabuse.]

posted by idunno on Dec 5

My ex-boyfriend was accused of molesting his son a few months after I moved out. A month later his daughter stated she was molested as well. His ex wife had tried to “take” the kids just prior to this. She wanted them to switch schools and live with her more (she lived one county over) and even transferred them without his knowledge, to another school system two days before school started. We had them 90% of the time and she never wanted to keep them more until he asked to have their custody revised, saying that he had them full time and to keep them in our county school system. She was afraid we were trying to take the kids away from her, which we weren’t, and this got the ball rolling on her end. She started picking them on time, which she never did before, and kept them when she was supposed to. After I moved out, she started asking around to see if I was still there and who kept the kids while he was at work. She even had a friend of her asking me odd questions on a social site….such as, are you single or who are you living with. When she found out I left him, she accused him of molestation. The youngest supposedly accused first. He was 3 at the time and had very delayed speech problem. He could barely comprehend things or speak like a normal 3 year old so I can’t believe he came out and said this. He hadn’t seen the kids in 5 days when she called the police or reported it. I was with him and his son 2 days before he took them back to her and of course the child was NOT scared of him and was hugging him and sitting in his lap. Neither kids were ever scared of him. The oldest child was 6 at the time and just recently had “good touch, bad touch” teachings at school and I talked with her about it and she said no one had ever touched her or made her feel scared. The kids loved being with us and would usually cry when they had to go to their moms and step-dads house. Their father was a cop and the ex claimed they are scared of cops now and claimed he scared them with his gun, which they NEVER even saw. As soon as he came in from work, he put it on a high dresser in the bedroom, out of sight completely. We had cop friends in and out all the time and the kids were never afraid of them. They would play and read for out guests. His ex then claims that their paternal grandfather also molested the daughter and that the grandmother knew about it and let it happen. With each trip to court, there was more and more “stories” revealed. Everyone that knows my ex, KNOWS he didn’t do anything, nor did his father. This happened almost 2 years ago and the small-town lawyer he had didn’t really do his job so now the case is up in the air. There was no arrest and he was investigated. His father was never questioned but still they are not allowed any contact with the kids. I’ve done tons of research to help. We stay in contact even though we’re not in a relationship. Both kids were examined and the oldest has no signs of abuse. Supposedly the smallest child had a bruise? They said it could’ve been caused by constipation since he had that a lot but it could also be from abuse. She lied in court saying that the 3 yr old was potty trained until this happened, then he was constantly wetting himself but I had those kids more than anyone, since he worked long hours or slept during the day, he worked nights. The child was never potty trained. We tried for 6 months and it never worked. We had him in pull ups and she would send him back in diapers. She even admitted in court that she never wanted him to go to jail, she just wanted child support. She was claiming he was one week late on it. I feel that if she truly believes he did this, why wouldn’t she want him in jail? Doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot more to the story but this is the shorter version. He called your office one day last week but no one has returned his call so I decided to post since he doesn’t have a computer. Any advice would be appreciated. What can we do to get this dismissed or at least get him visitation? Can you refer him to a expert lawyer in GA?

posted by Edward Nichols, MSW, LCSW-R on Apr 7

I read this blog on a daily basis and I am interested in answering any questions you may have.  Please feel free to enter a “comment” here, and I, or one of the many lawyers or experts who read this blog, will respond by posting a comment.  The purpose of this blog is to start a national dialog on important topics.  Your cooperation is needed.